The NASCAR Cup Series had gone 36 years without a Wednesday race on its schedule before hitting the track May 20 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in the series’ second race back from a 70-day hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Wednesday, Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 96 CommScope Toyota Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR), joins his fellow Cup Series competitors for the third scheduled Wednesday-night race in a four-week span – Darlington and the following week at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway being the first two, although rain forced the latter event to be run the next day.
This week, they’ll take to the half-mile, paperclip-shaped Martinsville (Va.) Speedway oval for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, and once again they’ll be making history in the process. Wednesday night’s race will be the first Cup Series event under the lights at the historic track, which has been hosting NASCAR races since 1949 but did not install stadium lighting until 2017.
The 500-lap race will be the second short-track event in the last three stops on the reconfigured Cup Series tour and a welcome one for Suárez, who’s in his first year with the one-car GBR team that is tackling the full 36-race schedule for the first time in its 10-year history. Two Sundays ago, Suárez drove to an 18th-place finish on the half-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway bullring for his best result in the No. 96 GBR Toyota thus far.
Martinsville is a track where Suárez feels very much at home, with its close-quarters racing that’s reminiscent of several tracks he competed on in his native country from 2009 through 2014. He became the eighth-winningest driver in the history of the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series in that time, racing on a variety of tracks, from road courses, to intermediate ovals, to half-mile flat tracks like the Autodromo de Potosino, where he raced 11 times and qualified on the pole twice.
There’s also the .625-mile El Dorado Speedway in Chihuahua, where he won from the pole in 2013 for one of his 10 Mexico Series victories in 76 starts. And there are the three-quarter-mile short tracks at Chiapas and Queretaro, where he also hoisted first-place trophies and led laps en masse.
Wednesday night’s race will be the seventh Cup Series outing for Suárez at Martinsville, where he has a best start of eighth and a best finish of ninth, both while driving the No. 19 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing in October 2018. He qualified ninth in both of his outings there since, driving the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing entry to finishes of 10th and 31st, respectively, in the spring and fall 2019 races. His average Martinsville start is 13.8 and average finish is 19.2.
With the old-school feel of bumping and grinding with 39 other stock cars, under the lights on a short track in the middle of the week, Suárez and his fellow competitors are excited to give their television audience quite the show.